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Discovering degree apprenticeships - a parent's perspective

Degree apprentice Charlie pictured with his mum, Rachel

With an exciting new academic year ahead, ARU has welcomed its first Data Scientist Bioinformatics degree apprentices. But as a parent you may be wondering what degree apprenticeships are, and what opportunities are out there for your child.

Many parents may not even be aware of degree apprenticeships and that they offer a way to study with no tuition fees – while being in full-time employment in a wide range of industries.

With this in mind we were delighted to meet and interview Rachel Nunn, mum of Charlie, who is starting his Data Scientist Degree Apprenticeship. They'd travelled to Cambridge from their home in Scotland, to visit Charlie's accommodation and his new employers, Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Parent to parent advice

With their eldest son already studying for a degree apprenticeship in software engineering, Rachel wanted something similar for Charlie. As a family, they were keen to find a degree apprenticeship related to Charlie’s passion for gene therapy, and that’s where their journey began.

Degree apprentices Charlie sitting on wall in front of university accommodation in Cambridge

Fast forward several months, and Charlie is about to embark on his degree course – and enter the data science profession with the world leaders for genomic discovery.

Rachel said: 'For Charlie, the pre-start experience with ARU has felt very immersive and supportive. As a parent I could not have asked for a better start, and I’m deeply appreciative. It has been fantastic that ARU has found a house for the apprentices to share – we are really grateful for that, and of course for the ability to have the running conversation with the Degrees at Work team to keep us on track, and get prepared.'

Every parent sending their child off to a new chapter in their life is likely to feel a little apprehensive.

'I was a little concerned, for my elder son, that the workload would be too much, but in fact it is equivalent to what a young professional might expect,' said Rachel. 'He’s motivated, engaged and fully immersed working with people who have the same interests. He works far harder than I anticipated he might.’

Delving into the detail

Rachel went on to explain her experiences of the application process and how it differs from applying for a traditional degree.

She highlighted that 'it’s much more competitive than simply applying to a university. It will be helpful at this stage for parents to support their child, either directly, or through third-sector organisations who are experienced in careers advice, such as National Careers Service, or in Scotland, Skills Development Scotland to help them think about their skills, CV and interview practice.'

As a parent Rachel is savvy with degree apprenticeships, however this is not the case for everyone. She explained: 'It would help to have a way to view upcoming apprenticeships, if you start a search early on. I think the front cover of every prospectus needs to say Degrees and Degree Apprenticeships. This would seem particularly important so that it feeds into schools’ calendar of careers activity.'

Rachel concluded that when the family reflects on degree apprenticeships as an alternative route, 'I think both boys will be proud to think they are able to pay their way through their university years.'

And what about Charlie?

Degree apprentice Charlie and his mum, Rachel

Charlie’s enthusiasm and anticipation was clear to see.

He’s looking forward to the future and thinks 'it would be greatly beneficial if more students were aware of the degree apprenticeships available to them. There should be a greater emphasis in schools, that there are alternative routes to higher education.'

Charlie went on to say that 'I’m most looking forward to meeting and working with the people who are experts in the area of biology, and to be on a team helping to change the way we see medicine.'

Stumbling across apprenticeships should be a thing of the past

Through Rachel's and Charlie’s experience, it’s apparent that information for parents and potential degree apprentices can sometimes be lacking. More needs to be done to make parents aware of the amazing opportunities that apprenticeships can bring, and see them as a first-class option. As Rachel highlights: 'Schools need to ensure they inform pupils and their parents about degree apprenticeships at an early stage.'

We wish Charlie a fantastic first year as a Data Scientist Bioinformatician degree apprentice.

Further support and advice

If you're interested in helping your child to find a degree apprenticeship: